The town of Leigh-on-Sea is situated on the northern side of the estuary of the river Thames, a few kilometres from the open waters of the North Sea to the east and at a similar distance from the Kent coast to the south.
The fishing and boat-building settlement of ‘Old Leigh’ is on the shipping route to London. Leigh-on-Sea grew to a prosperous port by the 16th century. Ships as large as 340 tons were built for fishing and other purposes. By the 18th century, ships had become larger, Leigh’s deep water channel silted up, and the town diminished in importance. Reduced once more to a fishing village and servicing the London markets via the Thames and by road. The main seafood catch from Leigh Old Town has always been shell-fish and white bait. Many of the fishing boats were bawleys, and these form part of the painting View at the mouth of the Thames. Two of the old town’s pubs, the Peter Boat and Ye Olde Smack, owe their names to two other kinds of local fishing boats, the Peter boat and the Smack.
We enjoyed the fresh seafood and tucked into a pint of whelks, half a pint of cockles and four good-sized slices of smoked eel. Eaten in bright sunshine, chilled by a fresh breeze, they were delicious.